DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Take A Chance With Rutabagas

Variety is said to be the spice of life, no matter what context. So, it’s not surprising that variety also can pertain to gardening.

Years ago, Gurney’s a nursery then out of Yankton, S.D., offered a pack of seed for a penny to children. You never knew what you would end up in your packet to plant.

What fun!

Now that we are adults, we can try growing different types of vegetables on our own, spicing up our gardens like those kids who didn’t know what seeds they were getting to plant.

Last year, I planted a row of rutabaga seed. I had never grown rutabagas before, although I had been eating them for years. They really turned out to be nice, big plants. And the yellow and purple roots showed no evidence of root worms, a common malady.

So, after my successful rutabaga crop in 2014, I decided to give them another try.

Rutabagas thrive on virgin soil, needing plenty of room to grow, as pioneers to this country discovered. Those early settlers would heap up brush, burn it and in the ashes plant rutabaga seeds.

Normally, rutabagas aren’t harvested until a frost has made them a bit sweeter (like carrots). They can be stored in a root cellar arrangement or you can wax them. They can be treated like turnips and parsnips, too. Watch for root worm problems after picking.

Rutabagas are a favorite in northern Europe. Also known as Swedes, every culture has a favorite recipe for them. The Finns use them in a hotdish and mash them together with potatoes. The Danes use them in sausage, while the Swedes boil and then fry them in butter. There are countless other ways to prepare rutabagas, too numerous to mention here.

According to the “Minnesota Destinations,” which provides travel information for the northern half of the Gopher State, the state claimed a major honor, with Askov in Pine County formerly being known as the “Rutabaga Capital of the World.”

A group of Danes from Askov, Denmark, settled in the area and founded the town of Askov. Rutabagas in the area date back to about 1909, when a man sent for seeds from his Danish homeland.

The sandy loam soil of Pine County, so suited for white and red pines, was turned into rutabaga farmland after the pines were cut and major forest fires swept the region in the late 1800s.

While farmers have celebrated rutabagas at a town festival since 1913, the event was renamed the Askov Fair and Rutabaga Festival in 1939. Many in the community recall thinning, weeding, picking and waxing rutabagas. Once a major crop for the local farmers, rutabagas now are found only in private gardens.

Each fall, foods such as sausage, malts and other treats, all seasoned with Danish Aebleskiver, are available from Lena’s Scandinavian Gifts-Coffee Bar and Greenhouse in Askov.

But if you are like me, I serve rutabagas roasted with a piece of beef, cut up in vegetable soup or as part of a boiled dinner.


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